BERLIN – Security officials from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc on Friday proposed a ban on wearing the burqa and other face-covering veils in public schools, courts, while driving and in other situations.
Full-face coverings worn by some Muslim women are "not part of our open society" and officials "urge everyone to show their faces," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said after meeting his state counterparts from Merkel's conservative Union bloc.
But he acknowledged constitutional problems with a blanket burqa ban and said the proposal seeks only to prohibit face coverings "where showing the face has a function."
He pointed out that Germany already bans wearing any kind of face covering at demonstrations, such as masks meant to hide protesters' identities.
Calls for a ban on burqas and other full-face veils emerged from parts of Merkel's bloc over the past two weeks amid discussions of how to step up security following several attacks last month -- two of them claimed by the Islamic State group -- which rattled Germany.
Among the loudest advocates were the conservative interior ministers of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin, which both hold state elections next month. Both are anxious to fend off a strong challenge from the nationalist, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, which has been bolstered by concerns over the hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers Germany allowed in last year.
There has been criticism from some even within their own party, however, who view the election-season focus on a burqa ban as a distraction from more important issues.
Armin Laschet, a deputy leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats, was quoted Friday in Focus magazine as saying that getting tangled up in such debates was unhelpful for the party.
"The security situation is so serious that we need to fully concentrate on internal security and not on symbolic topics," he said. "A burqa may displease some, but it has nothing to do with domestic security."
De Maiziere acknowledged the face veil was not a security issue and also that "overall it's not a big problem in Germany." But he said the interior ministers felt strongly about sending a signal about what it found "unacceptable for our open society."
The proposal still faces several hurdles, including getting Merkel's coalition partners in the national government, the center-left Social Democrats, on board and then winning parliamentary approval.